New Directions – 22

Andy Murray

“FROM TENNIS TO ALPACA IN ONE SMOOTH SEGUE”

Peru1

It’s been a peaceful few days of enjoying the ordinary like coffee with the neighbours, watching the birds at the feeder and the sweet peas flowering on the vine. I can relax in the knowledge that the girls will be here from Ireland next week and life will take on a different pace. In between I have a routine overnight stay at Lamlash Hospital and I’m hoping that it is all routine with no helicopter trips anywhere.

I’ve been watching the tennis, following young Andy up through the rounds and remembering how I used to love to play. It’s like watching  a well choreographed ballet as the players bring out their best. Wimbledon by tradition is so civilised and rules are us. We are fortunate as a country that we can afford to put on such a demonstration of expertise and the players are well paid for their efforts.

By contrast Kate Humble is presenting a programme on BBC called “Wild Shepherdess”. The first programme was about a tribe of Afghanistani people who live in the high Himalayas beyond the reach of war and absolutely rely on their sheep to provide them with milk and fibre, They are much more concerned in keeping wolves away from the sheep than being involved in the war but their lives are at survival level nevertheless.

Of most interest to me was last night’s programme which was about Peru. (No family favouritism here!). Kate visited alpaca herders in the high Andes at Chaullacocha and the Mitchell Company processing plant in Arequipa. The herders lived in extreme poverty but provided a warm welcome to her and the crew as they learned about breeding and quality of fibre.

This reminded me so much of the early days on Arran when we sorted fleece and produced handspun yarns for a very small niche market, no competition for the larger factory producers. We tried to set up a co-operative, but although there was romantic interest in our work as part of the summer tourist industry, really our “competitors” were villages in Africa and other parts of Europe where attempts were being made to reintroduce traditional skills and teach them to the younger generation.It didn’t work here and obviously herding alpacas is on a “knife edge” in Peru.

I found it very sad that the mountain people were being forced to think about the inevitability of a move to the city where they might earn more money, but the work would be menial and they would end up living in shanty towns with all the implications of leaving the fresh mountain air and traditional skills behind.

Let’s hope that such programmes have the result of bringing together the local herders to work with the processing and research industry to improve their product and reintroduce the exquisitely  fine work that was typical of their ancestors.

Most of all let’s hope that the value of a tennis player and the value of a traditional craftsperson producing in traditional style can be brought in line so that each one afford to live the life they choose.

Tennis

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Kate Humble is on BBC1 on Fridays at 9 PM and also on iPlayer. Hopefully Andy Murray will be on BBC through the championship match.

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New Directions – 21

Mendocino

“FIVE PLACES I’VE BEEN AND LOVED”

Sometimes the simplest questions bring the most complex and revealing of answers. As part of my Meditation through Writing course I’ve made a list of 5 places that I’ve been that I loved. Those of you who know me and those of you following my blog will have read some of my thoughts on places I’ve lived and the effect they had on me. This was different.

I spent some months living on Fjardlång in the Stockholm archipelago and some months living and working in Mendocino on Hwy 1 north of San Francisco (photo above from Wikipedia). Otherwise I was a visitor or a tourist. There are reasons why I don’t live in any of the places I fell in love with, but they have left me with precious memories and influenced the way I live my life.

Copenhagen is the place I most loved. I stopped off there often en route from Stockholm to Scotland in the early 70’s and always tried to stay for a few days, exploring the city, spending time with friends and generally feeling very much my authentic self as I walked the city streets and visited the places I loved best.

Louisiana_greenery

In town Bjorn Wiinblad’s Hus was my favourite little gallery and I still have two of his prints of Pamina and Papageno from the Magic Flute on my living room wall. It’s hard to pinpoint atmosphere sometimes, but when I looked him up on Wikipedia I was whisked right back to those lovely rooms. My other favourite haunt was the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art which is located in northern Zealand with a panoramic view across  Øresund. By rail it is  approximately 35 minutes from Copenhagen near Humlebaek Station. The museum surrounds the sculpture park facing the sea and the interaction between art, nature and the museum architecture is what makes it very special.

Fjardlang 21

I loved the island of Fjardlång from the very first time I ever set foot on it. I lived in one of the old farm cottages for a summer and spent as much time as possible out of doors, gardening, growing vegetables, helping to bring in the fishing nets early in the morning and lay them again at night, bathing in the wood fired sauna and jumping into the freezing cold sea. Again I felt my authentic self as I took this break from life in Stockholm.
Still in Scandinavia I remember falling in love with Helsinki, especially the Church in the Rock and the Design Centre. I loved the Finnish approach to design and loved the modern housing community of Tapiola which was built by several Finnish architects and seemed a great place to live, surrounded by as much nature as could be conserved while building apartments for contemporary living.
Northern California, Hwy 1 and Mendocino were places close to my heart because of the physical beauty and power of the ocean and the shore. The Art Centre at Mendocino has been a constant source of inspiration even though the last time I visited was in 1990. Likewise Guanajuato in Mexico and the town of San Miguel de Allende where I first became interested in weaving.
Guanajuatophoto from Wikipedia, AlejandroLinaresGarcia
If I think what these places have in common for me it is the fact that they surrounded me with the things I love, like good design, architecture and beautiful environments. I felt that I could be myself in those places and not have to play any roles. What’s very strange in retrospect is that I never chose to settle in any of those places. My destiny was in Arran and I have to say that I love this place most of all.
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New Directions – 20

Sweet Peas1

“MOMENTS TO STOP TIME”

One of the meditations in my course with Fiona (Meditation through Writing) is to make a list of moments where you would like to stop time and preserve those moments in delicate tissue. It was hard at first to go from the realistic approach that you can’t stop time even if you want to, but I stayed with it and came up a list which expresses what I would like to keep wrapped in tissue to be unwrapped and savoured occasionally in my mind.

The first thing was the smell of all the sweet flowers I’ve grown over the years, wrapped and ready to experience long after their scented days are over. I can smell the fragrance in the room of my first little bunch from this year, so it was a natural wish to keep that going.

That got me started, thinking about stopping that moment and holding that fragrance forever.

The second moment I’d like to stop in time is actually multiplied by three. I’d love to stop the moment when I met and held each of my children for the first time, moments after they were safely born and I felt fulfilled and ecstatic at the same time. Time could be stopped for all the cuddles and tickles that followed as they were growing up. I’d need lots of tissue paper.

Some specific times come to mind like flying over Arran on the way to Glasgow airport from Shannon after a transatlantic journey. With thoughts totally focussed on getting home it was amazing to suddenly see the mountain tops reaching up through thick cloud, the peaks identifiable, floating with no sign of any of the island underneath the clouds. It was magical.

Another moment would be the night we were visiting a friend at Knockinkelly and when we came out to go home, Holy Isle was in front of us, absolutely covered in a sheet of colour from the aurora borealis, one of the rare times that the lights reach this far south. We were mesmerised. I would wrap up that moment and bring it out to experience the translucent colours again and again it was so stunning and unexpected.

I would stop time many times to skim over Lamlash Bay in the Wayfarer, especially when I was at the helm. That wonderful experience of being part of the sea, the wind and the sky, working with the elements to control the direction of the journey, not really in control, but responding to what was going on around. Sailing round Holy Isle was like a dream, but one that I could easily parcel up and relive.

As I do this exercise I realise that I have actually stopped those moments in a way in my memory and they are always available to unwrap and experience again. I’m sure now I’ve opened this box, many more moments will come to me that I wish I could have stopped forever, but in a way it’s good that time moves on and leaves space for other moments where we would like to stop time. I’m so lucky to have my memory!

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New Directions – 19

CLEMATIS Glen Estate1

“SUMMERTIME AND THE LIVIN’ IS EASY…”

At the moment I can smell the fragrance from my first few sweet peas and enjoy the sunshine which will lead to another long light evening before the sun goes down. I’ve been listening to the thwack of tennis balls as Andy Murray wins his first round at Wimbledon, but not without some stiff opposition from his opponent. Last night there was a documentary on his life as a tennis star and I was moved to tears as he tearfully remembered the horrible events at Dunblane Primary where he and his brother were pupils. That experience is part of who he is and is bound to have helped shape the determined young man who can still cry when he loses an important championship.

Tennis was an important part of growing up for me as we battled it out in our high school gym class and played at the local courts.  I worked my way up to being a tennis coach at summer school in Jersey. All in good fun and never very competitive but sometimes I miss the feeling of the racquet against my hand and the achievement of balance points where a perfect, unreturnable ball is sent over the net. I have it all in my memory but occasionally long for the experience, though I know it is well nigh impossible to achieve.

Last night was the night of the perigee moon which was meant to be bigger and brighter than a normal full moon due to its orbit path in relation to Earth. It was too cloudy to see anything in the evening, but I woke up at 3 AM and the moon was clear, not bigger  then I remember, but certainly much, much brighter. The scene defeated my faithful digi-camera, so I will hold the image in my memory as well as the feeling of peace that I got from meditating on its clarity and brightness. Yet another experience to marvel at right outside my window.

Working with the course Meditation through Writing, it feels good to read in between times and let thoughts loop round each other as they settle down and bring some clarity to whatever it is that is just within reach. I’m going to reread Slow Time by Waverly Fitzgerald which was recommended by a good friend on the subject of “recovering the natural rhythm of life.” I shall be paying attention especially to the chapter “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”.

So – slow down, watch for the moon, smell the flowers and enjoy the thwack of Wimbledon and if you’re in the mood – don’t forget the strawberries & cream. After all, it’s Summertime!

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New Directions – 18

Solstice Rainbow 21

“A CANDLE, A RAINBOW AND A HANDBAG”

For me this past week has been quite active. A trip to the Royal Edinburgh for my six-weekly check-up to make sure all is well when a transplant becomes available. A night out to the High School to see the school leaver’s version of “The Importance of Being Earnest” which makes me laugh every time. The kids were great and suited to their roles and Heather Johnston’s direction was splendid. We spent the trip home to Brodick trying to get the right intonation into the words “a HANDBAG” but couldn’t find that elusive arrogance that is characteristic of Lady Bracknell, representing a whole social class in her way. Again I was reminded that I made the right decision sending my kids to Arran High School. They had the right mix of study, social development and participation in productions that has given them that quiet Arran confidence I’ve written about before.

I’ve spent quite a lot of this week pondering over the exercises in Fiona Doubleday’s course  “Meditation through Writing” which is being presented on line. At the moment it’s a kaleidoscope of thoughts and writings, but I know these will eventually come together to form a pattern. Each exercise takes me in a different direction and I’m happy to go at this slow pace as ideas and journal entries unfold and I can develop themes that I didn’t even know were there. My favourite one so far is the image from meditation of a candle flame, still and bright, providing clarity and enough peace to relax my mind and body and allow some kind of enlightenment to be available whenever I have to patience to light the candle and put everything else aside.

I had a bonus last night of light and colour in the form of a rainbow which appeared at 9 pm, just before sunset. I looked out the window expecting to see rainy sky, but there was a rainbow arching down into the hedge across the garden, colours glowing in the gray background, offering a few minutes of stunning beauty and disbelief. I was lucky with the camera and share it here with you.

At this time of solstice it feels quite natural to be preoccupied with what is going on in the sky. Unfortuately our skies are gray and rainy, but it is still possible to experience an evening of light as the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm.  I hope that you live some where that the skies are clear and you can see the Supermoon this evening which won’t come again until August 2014.

Also known as a perigee moon, the event occurs when a full moon lines up with the Earth and the sun at a specific point in its orbit, called the lunar perigee. That’s the point at which the moon is nearest to Earth as it traces its elliptical path around our planet.

Since it’s closer to us, the moon appears up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than usual. I would imagine that the usual blessings of a Full Moon will multiply from this extra energy boost. I do hope so.

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New Directions – 17

Nasturtiums

“A VERY ARRAN SORT OF DAY AND A NOT SO ARRAN SORT OF DAY”

Once in a while a day comes along when the smallest things fit together and make a day to remember. Today was such a day. I started off making a tepee for my sweet peas and JUST managed to finish before the sky clouded over and the midges appeared in swarms (Bring on those midge guzzling swallows). I then went for coffee to Brodick Castle with my friend Thea and we sat on the terrace and took in the view, soaking up the sun which had reappeared. I was very pleased to walk from the parking place to the cafe and back without too much exertion. Small, slow steps of progress.

We decided to drive through to Claughlands Point, looking out over Holy Isle and King’s Cross Point with another micro climate of sunshine and sea breeze. It was like being in a spa with a view as Holy Isle was at its most green and summery with the mountain and the rocks taking second place for once. Now at home the sun is back and the air is full birdsong and my sweet peas are saying “thank you” for giving them growing space and space to climb.

Now I’m home to the Zen of housework and meal preparation, looking at the cupboard and the fridge to see what I can put together that will combine yumminess with healthy eating. No decisions so far. As I write, the sun is disappearing behind a great black cloud. No wonder the saying goes that if you don’t like the weather in Scotland, wait half an hour.

A COUPLE of DAYS LATER…

Yesterday was definitely NOT an Arran sort of day. I had an appointment at the Liver Transplant Unit in Edinburgh, which involved a ferry ride and 2+ hours in an ambulance on the M8  both ways. Things are stable which is a gift after 1 1/2 years but as always the visit shook the hard won equilibrium that I have developed in my daily life at home. My emphasis HAS to be on one day at a time and gratitude that I have such good medical care, but days like yesterday take some effort to put aside worst case scenarios and realist that we DON’T know in life what will happen from one day to the next.

Today was back to normal spending time in the garden and with my neighbours planning a trip to the theatre tomorrow night to see the high school production of The Importance of Being Ernest, one of my all time favourite laughs. We are also planning a party as part of the Housing Association’s 40th anniversary of sheltered housing. Everyone is contributing a page to a book about how their lives have changed over 40 years with photos to match. It’s great fun to discuss it, because someone always as a funny memory to share and everyone is from a different background.

So equilibrium is restored and the biggest problem is to hoover up half a packet of Niger seeds which spilled all over the floor when i was attempting to fill the bird feeder to try and attract that elusive goldfinch…..

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New Directions – 16

Lilac stock-photo--branch-with-spring-lilac-flowers-133353626

“ROMANCING THE ORDINARY”

I read this lovely book by Sarah Ban Breathnach a few years ago and while I loved the book, I loved the title even more. This past week has been one of romancing the ordinary and appreciating what is good in my life. Alison came as usual on Monday and left my flat sparkling, doing the housework that I can’t manage myself yet. As usual we laughed a lot and caught up with all the gossip.  Every fortnight we have lunch served in the communal lounge here. This week I went along to catch up with my neighbours and some more goss. Who says you don’t know what’s going on just because you live alone and can’t get around too much!

My health challenge for the week was to get used to taking a daily dose of insulin, but I feel so much better as sugar levels drop and so lucky that we have those medications so available and convenient. The district nurses have been wonderful in helping me get used to the procedures, one more chain of support from our medical team on the island. It’s amazing the misconceptions people have about diabetes, when in fact it’s a manageable condition from day 1. I grew up with it in my family, but it was talked about in hushed tones and never openly acknowledged. Not any more.

On Wednesday I started a new Meditation Through Writing course. Once a month we will have face to face practice and the rest of the month will be materials delivered on-line and an online forum to discuss issues that come up as we go along. I’ve somehow always been involved in meditation and yoga – probably as an extension of the prayer which was such a strong part of my upbringing and now I have the luxury of having TIME to meditate and write. It is really exciting.

I’d forgotten that when you embark on an intensive period of meditation or prayer challenges  come up in the form of old feelings and experiences that you’ve locked inside rather than examine and until you let these go, they will always be a burden. It always amazes me the relationship between the body and spirit that comes into play when you stop long enough and listen to yourself.

In case you think I’m getting too serious I should mention that meditation was followed by lemon drizzle cake baked by George, a young man with definite culinary potential.

Thursday was a day for getting together with “The Girls” – average age ca. 60. We had lunch at the Wineport, much to be recommended and then a spot of retail therapy at the Pooch Boutique just in behind the bistro where I bought a beautifully crafted local pot to celebrate feeling better and starting in new directions. Continuing the theme of the ordinary I invested in some bamboo to make a tepee for my sweet peas (it’s been too wet and dreary to mount them, but there’s still time…..). Peanuts for the birds, a get well card for a dear neighbour and friend and some aromatherapy oil and I was sorted.

The week ended with a foray into pale “Lilac Longing” coloured nail shellac topped with sparkly “Silver V.I.P.” I may have mentioned it a time or two but I can never get enough lilac, so every little bit helps. Lynn comes to me for the treatment which means I can go straight for a nap when she’s finished…

“Do I ever get bored living alone in sheltered housing?” I don’t think so.

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New Directions – 15

Anne Truittsculpture by Anne Truitt

“AFTER THE RAIN”

Actually it’s still during the rain as the weather has taken a definite turn for the Scottish. But I went out this morning to inspect my new plants and the fresh, spicy scent that comes after the rain was incredible. And I didn’t have to water the plants.

It’s an afternoon of sorting through art materials and paper supplies (remember I said I was going to start clearing out again??) It’s always interesting to come across an old to do list and see what the outcome was of those plans made a few years ago. In my case as you know if you’ve been following my blog for even a nanosecond the plans have been interrupted by illness. It’s a fascinating process to see what will stay and what will go.

Tomorrow I’m starting Fiona Doubleday’s course Meditation through Writing which is an on-line course for those interested in pursuing both these practices. Further information is on Fiona’s Facebook Page. It will be interesting to see where the journey takes me and I look foward to carrying on with the Illustrated Journaling work that I started before I became ill.

My daily dose of insulin continues to slowly lower sugar levels making me feel so much better. There are still problems to solve, but this kind of progress makes it all worth while and it is a great blessing to feel strength coming back into my body, no matter how little or how gradual.

I’ve spent the last couple of days rereading “True Nature” by Barbara Bash and again urge you to have a look at her website (address below.)

I’ve found myself drawn  to one of my favourite journals which I’ve read on many occasions since a friend gave it to me in 1982. Anne Truitt wrote “Daybook” in diary form documenting her life as a well known sculptress, lecturer and single mother of three. She records her thoughts on how those three roles interweave in her daily life and what effect they have on each other.

She followed “Daybook” with two more equally riveting  volumes “Turn” and “Prospect”. For me they are touchstones which remind me of the last time I read them, finding something new in each reading as I grow and change.  She brings the same keen sense of observation of a year in the garden that she does to a stay in Japan and how that changed her perspectives. As a reader, you can feel her grow in confidence and self-esteem in the same way as women the world over in her time and place.

I know I will lose myself in the pages of her books and find sustenance for my own creative ideas and thoughts as I go along.

While I’ve been writing this I’ve been mindful of a battle going on at the bird feeder outside the window and understand once again what is meant by “pecking order”. Not necessarily a pleasant sight, but certainly dramatic. Enough for one day! There are so many more positive things to think about.

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New Directions – 14

Fuschia1

“JUST ANOTHER MONDAY”

The lovely summer sunshine has disappeared behind a very grey sky and we’re just Scottish enough not to be sure that she’ll ever come back, or was that it for this year. The rhythm of the day was subdued after the exuberance of the weekend, but it had it’s own pleasures as well. Insulin and I are getting on famously after a rough start and I feel ever so much better as sugar levels gradually come down to be replaced with energy. Long may it continue!

Every other Monday we have a lunch club in the house prepared by Michael who is a fantastic chef. Today he had made a colourful salad with my favourite cooked beetroot, new potatoes, egg, cheese and pineapple chunks. I couldn’t finish it.  I welcome this chance to relax and chat with my neighbours and keep up with all the local “goss”. I really cherish the  combination of sociability and solitude that living here brings and care when something goes pear-shaped.

The afternoon was about rest and recovery from the recent upheaval of hospital. I’m re-reading Barbara Bash’s lovely illustrated journal of seasonal retreats called “True Nature“. I came across it in the Elliott Bay Book Store in Seattle when I was last there. It was Christmas and my birthday and Simon had flown out with me as a last-minute break before his final exams at university in Aberdeen. The sun was shining and the two of us were exploring the downtown area when we found the book shop and I found the book.

When we got to the check-out he bought the book for me,  so it has triple-quadruple meaning in the memories  when I read it.

Today is the anniversary of two separate significant happenings in my life. In 1963 I graduated from Bella Vista High School in California, one of many turning points in my life. This year is the fiftieth anniversary reunion and I look forward to hearing what has happened to the others in the that class, though Facebook goes some way in bringing people together.

The other significant June 10 was in 1956 when my Grandpa died. He was so much a part of the first 10 years of my life and I have such fond and funny thoughts when I think of him. He was a chiropodist and masseur and knew a lot about alternative remedies and today the smell of lavender, arnica and birch leaf oil takes me back to his room instantly. He could bring the swelling down on a sprain in no time and was always someone to go to if you needed him.

Of course when he was in his final illness we were not allowed to see him as this was considered no place for children, but I felt the process by the behaviour of the grown-ups and I was kept up to date on events by my 15 year old cousin who was considered old enough to be allowed “in”. Funny how much we underestimate children’s ability to accept and cope.

Here’s hoping for sunshine tomorrow so I can get back out to my pots and plants and work on that much needed intake of Vitamin D.

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New Directions – 13

plant sale day 11 001

“TWO SUNNY DAYS IN A ROW AND COUNTING….”

I’ve made up for lost sunshine hours in the last couple of days and now this afternoon I feel that sense of well-being that comes when your body mellows with the help of some Nivea SunBlock 30, and you feel you might, just might be absorbing Vitamin D.

Yesterday involved a trip to Whiting Bay for some retail therapy on behalf of the Butterfly Tree Charity which supports rural development in Zambia and provides mosquito nets to help eradicate malaria. I went with friends to Hazelbank where my friend Fiona of Scottish Island Mum fame was holding a plant sale of flowers and herbs from her work in the polytunnel. I added some sweet peas, borage and salvia to my container garden collection and indulged in a very beautiful posy for a friend’s birthday.

plant sale day 11 011

Sitting out in Fiona’s garden under a huge beech tree, I suddenly realised that for the first time in a long time I actually FELT well and realised that healing does come, not always at the speed we would like, but afternoons like yesterday are more precious than anything, especially when they are shared with friends.

This feeling of well-being lasted through the evening and today and I feel so grateful for the change.

When I moved into the flat last year I took boxes and boxes to the ARCAS charity shop and cleared out belongingsto accomodate downsizing. Now I feel ready to go through that process of sorting and fixing again and face the things I put away to “deal with later”. I think I can now let go the old red TV that I bought a quarter of a century ago to watch at night when I was breastfeeding and I’m happy to get rid of toys I was keeping “just in case” now that I’ve had THE discussion with the family as to what they wanted to keep. I will reduce the toy collection to boxes of LEGO which still come out when the family  visit.

I will also keep the wooden BRIO railway set that I have to admit I bought for me because I loved the design and the way it fits together.

Then there’s the glass chess set that sparkles on the table and brings back memories of the “chess phases”, which I have to say only included me as a spectator

Can you see where I’m heading?? I don’t know where this clear out will take me, but it would be very nice to be over that phase where I still can’t make up my mind about what I want to keep and what should go. That way I can focus on what belongs to the present and not the past and decide what is essential for me to own as part of my daily life.

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